Reading Without Scrolling

After switching from an iPhone to an Android device at the end of last year, my content consumption workflow changed significantly. I stopped reading articles on my phone due to the poor experience provided by the Android version of the Instapaper App, and I started checking my RSS feeds once a day on my laptop rather than on my phone.

This new approach to getting through my feeds helped me to remove a lot of the noise from subscriptions, and also got me thinking about whether certain topics really required a feed subscription when I was usually being exposed to the latest on those topics either via word of mouth or just through browsing the front page of Reddit. As a result, it’s no longer necessary for me to check Reeder every day, and I am currently able to stay on top of my subscriptions by going through them a couple of times a week.

I had been trying to set aside time each morning to make a dent in my Instapaper backlog, and while this worked for a while, the amount of time that I am able to devote to this in the mornings before leaving the house has been steadily decreasing. I am increasingly dealing with more complex topics in my morning study of Italian and Japanese, and similarly I am moving on to more physically demanding progressions of exercises in my morning workouts. Both of these factors are gradually demanding more of my time in the mornings, to the point where I have been feeling that my attempts at working through my Instapaper backlog need to be reassessed.

Some years ago I tried using a Kindle as the main medium from which to consume articles I saved to Instapaper. For a number of reasons the experience didn’t quite click with me and I stopped sending articles to my Kindle quite quickly. Until very recently, I hadn’t really given much thought to the idea of reading articles on my Kindle.

Every morning I have around fifteen minutes of time while I wait for and travel on the train to work, which upon reflection I decided that I was not really utilising very effectively. I started using this time to read fiction, and I made short work of rereading novels set in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex universe by Junichi Fujisaku.

I was surprised at just how much reading I was getting done while waiting for and travelling on trains, though I really shouldn’t have been given how much I spend writing and talking about the power and compounding returns of incremental learning and improvement strategies. After finishing the last novel, I started thinking of using that same time to make up for the time I was losing at home in reading my saved articles.

Usually this would have been done on my mobile phone or a tablet, but between the poor Instapaper experience on Android and my wife having permanently taken possession of my iPad, the only other reading device at my disposal was a Kindle. Setting up Instapaper to regularly send a selection of articles to my Kindle was painless process and in a matter of minutes I had a selection of articles from my backlog ready for me on my Kindle, complete with a table of contents to navigate between articles, and links to archive and like articles once I had finished reading them.

I have been reading Instapaper articles on my Kindle for about a week now and I have two immediate observations:

  • Not having to actively select something out my Instapaper backlog to read takes a huge weight off of my shoulders and makes the whole experience more pleasant and less of a chore
  • My relationship with articles has been deeply coloured by the ubiquity of scrolling on both mobile platforms and browsers

This second point was quite surprising to me. When reading on a screen, whether it is a laptop screen, a phone screen or a tablet screen, the role of scrolling is central to the reading experience. It is so fundamental that I often scroll to scan around without thinking, even when I am mid-sentence. I’m willing to bet that my poor impulse control and scrolling habits have a significantly detrimental effect on the total time required for me to finish reading an article or set of articles.

E-ink readers such as the Kindle on the other hand can feel painfully slow when you are trying to scan through large swathes of text separated by multiple page turns. In embracing this slower pace and constraint on the ability to scan around, I have found my attention has been much more focused and attuned to the nuances of the articles that I am reading, and I have realised just how rare my moments of mindful reading of articles are these days.

I believe that this change has been key in marking a mental shift whereby reading saved articles has gone from being an obligation to an act of leisure, and has also revitalised my latent desire to invest time in reading longform writing.